The Lexington Physicians of General Robert E. Lee

Richard D. Mainwaring, MD; Harris D. Riley, Jr, MD


South Med J. 2005;98(8):800-804. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

General Robert E. Lee has been interpreted by history as one of the most intriguing personalities of the American Civil War era. In more recent years, there has been much speculation regarding General Lee's health during the war and the possible influence this had on his decision making and performance. Lee's personal letters during and after the war provide some documentation about his health condition, albeit through the eyes of a lay person. The history that was recorded by his personal physicians in Lexington, Virginia provides invaluable insights into his medical history. This manuscript focuses on the lives of these two physicians, Drs. Howard Barton and Robert Madison, and their interactions with their famous patient.

General Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederate States from 1862 to 1865. At the conclusion of this war, Lee was unmistakably one of the most famous men in America, yet his lifetime military career was over and he found himself unemployed. During the summer of 1865, Lee was offered and accepted the position of President of Washington College in Lexington, VA. For the next five years, Lee devoted his energies to building a college of lasting reputation now known as Washington and Lee University.

General Lee's tenure as President of Washington College ended following a progressive illness that afflicted him during the last 15 months of his life. During this time, his medical care was provided principally by Drs. Howard Thornton Barton and Robert L. Madison, his Lexington physicians. This manuscript will chronicle the biography of these two men and review the diagnoses and medical management they provided for their famous patient, General Lee.